Indian spinners face big test in series against South Africa
As India gear up for a long series at home against South Africa starting from October 2, the prime focus will be on its spinners in all three formats of the game. India host the Proteas in the Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela series that comprises three T20s, five ODIs and four Tests.
With the squad being announced for the T20 and the first three ODIs, Ravichandran Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Harbhajan Singh and Axar Patel, boast of a spin quartet that will look up to face the world's leading batsmen. India have also opted for all-rounder Gurkeerat Singh Mann who bowls off-break, and their onus will lie on the spinners to win them matches on slow sub-continent pitches.
For the shortest format of the game, India are looking to experiment with its spin options for the T20s, ahead of the World Cup to be played in the country in 2016. In ODIs, India's loss to Bangladesh in June will serve as a curve in which direction have Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men gone from there.
The five-match ODI series gives Dhoni a platform to display his variety in the bowling department given the absence of the experienced Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma.
South Africa will be the perfect opponent for India given their success in all formats in recent years. The presence of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy sees the Proteas boast of an experienced batting line-up who have huge experience of the sub-continent surroundings.
Here is a look at the Indian spinners who will look to influence the game against South Africa.
Harbhajan Singh: The veteran off-spinner has been omitted from the ODIs but his selection for the T20s gives him a big platform to showcase his experience ahead of the T20 World Cup. Harbhajan last played in the shorter format earlier against Zimbabwe this year.
Harbhajan may get called in the Test squad, but with ODI cricket out of question, the 35-year-old could use the T20s to his advantage. In the tour of Zimbabwe, Harbhajan wasn't up to his best in both T20s and ODIs.
Last month he looked rusty in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle, as he picked a solitary wicket. He was dropped from the other two matches.
The Punjab spinner will hope he plays in the T20s to cement a place in the team as bowing out in the World Cup will serve as a big boost to his morale. His record in the Indian Premier League shows he knows how to extract the best out of the spin-friendly pitches.
Amit Mishra: The 32-year-old spinner had grabbed his chances against Sri Lanka in the 2-1 Test series victory and that has led to his call-up in the limited overs. Mishra's variety in bowling adds to the vitality and options on the field, given he last played in the coloured jersey back in 2014.
Mishra's 15 wickets against Sri Lanka have done him a world of good. Under Virat Kohli's captaincy, Mishra excelled by bowling short bursts of spells in a five-bowler strategy. Mishra's confidence looks to have come back and how he fares in the shorter format will be a major look out. Mishra might get to play in the ODIs alongside Ashwin, and this combination will be the key for Dhoni.
Mishra will want to continue his prime form in the Tests and relish the opportunity against a top team. Kohli's vision will see Mishra be part of a pack that will be upbeat given their success against the Lankans.
Axar Patel: The decision to leave out Ravindra Jadeja comes as no surprise and that serves as a warning for youngster Axar Pater, who has so far not performed in a way he would have liked to. Yet he finds himself in the selector's frame for the T20s and ODIs.
Axar Patel, who was drafted into the Indian side in the 1-2 series lost against Bangladesh in June, is yet to convince his role as an all-rounder fully. With Gurkeerat Singh Mann selected in the side and the presence of Stuart Binny, Axar knows he needs to grab whatever opportunity he gets against the Proteas.
The left-arm bowler is seen as a future prospect and getting to see Ashwin, Mishra and Harbhajan will do him lots of wonders. As a youngster, Axar will hope to improve his statistics.
Axar has got just 23 wickets in 18 ODI matches and his average with the bat is a shabby 7.71.
Also playing in the Ranji Trophy more could help his prospects.
Ravichandran Ashwin: Ashwin has handled India's spin department well over the past few years and that was largely visible in the Test series against Sri Lanka. Ashwin's purchase from the pitches in Lanka, saw him outwit everyone in creating chances as well as finishing as the highest wicket taker.
Ashwin's continuation of good bowling in Tests will see him shouldering most of the responsibility. Even in the shorter formats, Ashwin's presence will dictate India's fortunes. His performances at home have been remarkable and there has also been an upward shift in his graph outside the country.
Against Australia in the beginning of this year, Ashwin showed sparks of brilliance by getting 12 wickets in three Test matches. The off-spinner then enthralled the fans in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and has shown why he is the side's premium bowler who has looked like a leader in the pack with majority of others being inconsistent with their forms.
India is now heavily dependent on Ashwin and it looks good that the bowler is ready to take the responsibility and get his side back to the top in world cricket.